ArtsWatch: Artists Against Digital Theft

Copyright Alliance launches Web platform to mobilize political pressure
May 23, 2011 -- 7:16 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On May 16 the Copyright Alliance launched the website, offering a variety of ways for creators to make their political voices heard. Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars said, "Artists need to know that there are aggressive voices on the other side who believe artists' rights should be secondary to an unfettered right to steal.... These voices should not go unchallenged." Copyright Alliance also invites artists to email them personal stories of digital theft so the organization has firsthand accounts available to share with lawmakers at opportune times. RIAA Director of Communications Liz Kennedy said, "Perhaps the easiest step of all — one anyone who believes that creative works have value and are worth protecting should consider — is copying and sharing the ready-made Tweets and Facebook updates that the group encourages supporters to offer." Through its own advocacy efforts, The Recording Academy encourages members and website visitors to let elected officials know their points of view.

In a May 16 letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, 42 state attorneys general expressed their support for making legislation to combat rogue websites a top priority. The letter read in part, "Today, enforcement against theft of intellectual property [IP] is more important than ever.... While counterfeiting and piracy are not new, the proliferation and extent of these activities is unprecedented." The Independent Film & Television Alliance and MPAA praised the attorneys general for "emphasizing the critical need for legislation to crack down on websites trafficking in stolen U.S. property."

Separate statistics estimating the economic costs of widespread infringement were recently published by the Business Software Alliance and U.S. International Trade Commission. The USITC report was released on May 18 in response to a request from the Senate Finance Committee more than one year ago for a quantitative analysis of intellectual property infringement in China. The study's survey of more than 5,000 U.S. IP firms indicated 2009 infringement-related losses of $48 billion. The BSA released its 2010 global software piracy study on May 12, finding a 14 percent increase from the previous year to a record $59 billion in losses due to IP theft. BSA President/CEO Robert Holleyman said, "The irony is people everywhere value intellectual property rights, but in many cases they don't understand they are getting their software illegally."

The Obama Administration released "International Strategy For Cyberspace," a high-level policy document intended to serve as a central source of guidance for domestic and international efforts. Introducing the strategy on May 16, President Barack Obama said, "This is not the first time my administration has addressed the policy challenges surrounding these technologies, but it is the first time that our nation has laid out an approach that unifies our engagement with international partners on the full range of cyber issues." Intellectual property protection is treated primarily under three policy priorities — economy, law enforcement and international development — but the strategy's overall emphasis on responsible norms of behavior in cyberspace can be read as including respect for copyright. IP's most direct treatment is under the economic action item "Protect intellectual property...from theft," which reads, "The persistent theft of intellectual property, whether by criminals, foreign firms, or state actors working on their behalf, can erode competitiveness in the global economy, and businesses' opportunities to innovate. The United States will take measures to identify and respond to such actions to help build an international environment that recognizes such acts as unlawful and impermissible, and holds such actors accountable."

California State Senate bill SB 550 faces its final committee vote today and would authorize law enforcement authorities to perform warrantless inspections of CD and DVD manufacturing plants for compliance with copyright regulations. Introduced by California State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), SB 550 passed its second of two previous committee approvals earlier this month. Marcus Cohen, RIAA director of West Coast antipiracy investigations, said, "Last year in California, we seized about 820,000 pirated music discs. Nine out of 10 of them come from replicator plants...and the replication capital of the country is California."

On May 16 Broadway orchestral musicians and their supporters launched the "Save Live Music On Broadway" campaign — including a website and social media presence — to protest orchestras replacing live musicians with recordings. Multiple-GRAMMY winner Stephen Sondheim said, "Every audience is privileged to see a very specific performance that nobody will ever see again. It's the aliveness of the orchestra that makes the evening unique and allows for the interplay between the audience, the stage and the pit, which is necessary in every musical." The group's message is also reinforced by assorted personal statements and the Broadway Musical Theatergoer Study, which shows large majorities consistently agree that live music is essential to the Broadway experience.


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